(March 3) Strawberries and sweet potatoes should be plentiful for the Easter push, but chilly weather in the Stockton growing region has California asparagus grower-shippers worried about supplies.

Grower-shippers say they usually begin harvesting asparagus near Stockton in late February, with full volumes by mid- to late March. But unseasonably low temperatures and rains forecasted for nearly every day through mid-March are holding up the harvest, Ernie Robles, asparagus salesman for Salinas, Calif.-based Growers Express, said Feb. 28.

“Right now Stockton’s having a hard time getting started,” Robles said. “It’s really cold out there. Ground temperatures are very low.”

Robles said temperatures have dropped into the 30s at night and haven’t warmed up significantly during the day, and the ground temperature still is in the upper 30s. Asparagus needs a ground temperature of at least 52 degrees for production, he said.

“I’m hoping that the actual asparagus crowns haven’t been affected,” he said.

Robles said he’s hoping for a warm-up soon, but not too soon. If it gets too warm too fast, the asparagus crowns could be shocked, and would not produce well this season.

At Ocean Mist Farms LLC, Castroville, Calif., asparagus commodity manager Jeff Post said Ocean Mist has had similar problems.

“We started harvesting 15 days ago for about seven days, and then a cold front came through and it just stopped,” Post said Feb. 28. “We haven’t touched it since.”

Robles said there is a chance the Easter crop will bounce back. If the weather picks up in early March, there could be volumes for Easter promotions. Because the April 16 Easter falls 20 days later than in 2005, grower-shippers have time for the weather to improve.

STRAWBERRIES

Easter’s mid-April appearance should be a good thing for California strawberry producers. Early to mid-April is when supplies are coming from all growing regions, Dan Crowley, sales manager for Watsonville, Calif.-based Well-Pict Inc., said Feb. 28. He said all growing regions in California should be harvesting by early April.

“It’s perfect timing for the holiday,” Crowley said. “It’s the beginning of very large volumes for the state of California.”

Southern districts should be in peak production and the northern districts should be getting started at that time, he said.

California may have most of the Easter market, but Gary Wishnatzki, president of Plant City, Fla.-based Wishnatzki Farms, said volumes of a late variety should be available from his operation.

“Most of the growers (in Florida) will not be harvesting at that time,” Wishnatzki said Feb. 28. “Our camino real variety will still be picking through Easter.”

SWEET POTATOES

Because most firms have year-round storage crops of sweet potatoes, growers-shippers said consumers wanting their Easter “ham and yams” shouldn’t have any problem.

“I’ve got plenty,” Roy Hansen, sales manager for Delhi, La.-based Dawson Farms LLC, said Feb. 28.

Bob Riggle, sales manager for Vardaman, Miss.-based Alexander Farms, said March 1 that Easter falls at a great time for the storage crop this year.

“We’re going to have some of the best looking potatoes coming out of storage at that point in time,” Riggle said. “We’re getting to the pretty stuff that’s cured.”

Riggle said sweet potato producers look forward to Easter because demand is very good.

“It could be every bit as good as Thanksgiving,” Riggle said.